Friday, September 2, 2016

Gods of the Fall - Finding Your Balance

I cannot get enough of this cover art. Seriously, just look at it, it's amazing!

Running a game of Gods of the Fall is pretty really fun, but it can be difficult, and finding the sweet spot for your group takes some time and effort. You see, balance in Gods of the Fall is a very delicate thing and depends heavily on the choices of your players for their characters. For players things are equally delicate as they may make choices that affect the way the GM plans and runs sessions and those may directly contribute to their enjoyment of the game.

Let's dive right into some example characters to get an idea of what I mean:
  • Zothar is a Vengeful Destroyer who Masters Weaponry, Gods of War 
  • Wien is Beneficent Saviour who Works Miracles, God of Kindness 
  • Sayeld is an Intelligent Shaper who Carries a Quiver, God of Explorers 
At tier 1 all three of this characters are pretty well balanced on most fronts. Sure, Zothar is better at combat due to having more combat abilities, and Bien will be stronger in social situations, and Sayeld will probably be a little rounded than her companions. But at tier 1 none of these characters have training in attacks and are limited in their ability to apply effort and change the difficulty of tasks. This means that in any given encounter no one character far outstrips the others regardless of the encounter type (i.e. combat, social, exploration).

Now let's take a look at these same three characters once they reach Tier 2 and gain divine shifts. This is an obvious worst case scenario but it serves the purpose:
  • Zothar is a Vengeful Destroyer who Masters Weaponry, Gods of War 
    • Zothar has invested all 3 divine shifts into Single Attack for his Blooded Axe (a heavy weapon) 
    • Gained +1 to Might Edge 
  • Bien is Beneficent Saviour who Works Miracles, God of Kindness 
    • Bien has invested all 3 of her shifts into Intelligence 
    • Gained +1 to Intelligence Edge 
  • Sayeld is an Intelligent Shaper who Carries a Quiver, God of Explorers 
    • Sayeld has invested divine shifts into Dexterity, Single Attack (bow), and Healing 
    • Gained +1 to Speed Edge 
The party has now gone from roughly equal to wildly and vastly different in power. Zothar is a beast in combat attacking all enemies at 3 levels lower before using effort or training, and doing +9 damage as well. Socially Zothar's abilities are essentially unchanged (though he does have Effort 2 now), and when exploring he probably gains a useful skill and has the extra Might Edge to pull on.

Bien on the other hand has invested into Intelligence and gains a 3 level decrease on all tasks for knowledge, crafting and the like. Bien has only the advantage of Effort 2 in combat and in otherwise unchanged from her Tier 1 capabilities there. In Exploration tasks she is able to use her deeper knowledge to help the group to great effect.
Oddly, Intelligence shifts don't mention Social tasks, so I think a shift that would give benefit to social tasks, leadership, and maybe provide a follower could be an interesting addition.
Sayeld has bought a mix of shifts and continued to act as the group's Jack Jill of all Trades. Dexterity helps with a number of exploration tasks as well as combat defense and accuracy. Single attack with a bow likewise ensures a gain in accuracy and damage output giving her some additional combat punch. While Healing's additional 1 turn recovery roll ensures that Sayeld can use Effort a little more freely and bounce back from damage a little faster. 

As you can see a GM for these three characters now has to balance encounters out carefully. Any knowledge based situations will either be breezed through by Bien or particularly difficult or impossible for Zothar and Sayeld. Conversely Zothar will make mince of most foes in direct combat (though he will take damage as his defense are not especially strong) and Sayeld will hold her own, but Bien will be hard pressed to contribute against foes strong enough to challenge the others (especially Zothar). Exploration and social encounters are probably the best balanced encounter types for the group as a whole with each still having strong points and weak points. 

So what does this all mean?

Players

Well for players it means that you need to choose wisely when allocating divine shifts, especially the first 3 gained at Tier 2. Understand how your character's sentence and shifts will interact and how becoming dominant in one area may impact your activity in other areas. If you don't mind being a wallflower during difficult social encounters, or at best providing the occasional asset to somebody else's role through your own words, you may still decide to build that unstoppable god of war. On the other hand you may consider taking a shift or two in related abilities that will help in other areas to keep your character well rounded and better able to participate in all encounters equally. As you gain more tiers, and more shifts, you can always narrow (or widen) your focus more to suit the game. Maybe you take 3 shifts in slaying things at Tier 2, but your god of war then starts to invest in Intelligence shifts to help with tactics and leadership. 

Gamemasters

As usual your job is a little more difficult and finicky. While it might be nice for the players to build more rounded characters that may not happen. You still need to put up a game that can be fun for all involved though and that requires a little work on your part. Firstly understand what your players' characters are capable of; this will help you to get a better idea of what parts of the game will have focus for all the players versus some of the players or even just one of the players. Obviously this goes along with standard understanding of what the players what to do, but because of the way divine shifts can skew a character's capabilities you will need to keep that in mind a little more. 

Things to consider when setting up an adventure:
  • Sometimes you'll need to let a player's niche shine brightly, gods should be able to feel godly within their dominions! Just be careful not to overuse this or risk risk alienating the other players.
  • Adding health can make a creature last longer without impacting how easy/difficult it is to hit
  • Adding armor can also make a creature last longer without impacting its difficulty to hit, but may edge out some PCs from being able to deal damage
    • On the flip side armor doesn't help against status effects like stun, knockback, and impairment
  • Social difficulties may be fluid based on an NPCs perception of the characters. 
    • A general may be more willing to negotiate with another military man than he is a courtesan, for instance.
    • It should be easier to convince somebody to do something that is within their interested AND the PCs interested than it is to convince them to do something solely in the interests of the PC. e.g. a sorcerer may be prone to help the PCs with research if they in turn help her with something she needs. 
    • A god's dominion may well play into cultural perceptions. A god of the sun may be more or less well received in the Nightlands, depending on the people. A god of bloodshed may find surprising allies in the nefar of the Verge. 
Make sure that you mix encounters that are balanced well for the group as a whole with those balanced well with those who are strong against those encounters. That may mean having a combat where the God of War stomps the bad guys easily but the other players can feel competent and then having a second combat encounter where the God of War really shines by being the focus of the combat via his divine power. Likewise for social encounters when you have a God of Witty Banter. 

Oddly enough this also leads me to suggest that from time to time you can also build adventures where you encourage the party to split up to accomplish different goals in a limited time frame. The God of War may go off to hold the city's walls against the ogre horde while the God of Witty Banter races to the local lord to beseech that they march their army out against the horde before the town is razed to the ground. Yes, in this instance splitting the party might actually make things MORE survivable rather than less and will give your characters their own moments to shine without also blinding out the other PCs in the process. 

In summary, you probably need to be aware that Divine Shifts can skew player capabilities farther away from each other than they normally would be. As a player you need to understand how your character choices will impact your in game experience for the better and worse. And all parties need to be cognizant of the fact that as you gain shifts your capability in some areas of play increases while it will also decreased in others as the level needed to challenge the party will continue to rise.